Center Console – Day 3

Another lucky miss in the weather department this week meant I could get the Miata back out of the garage again yesterday. I took advantage of that today to spend another part day working on the center console. The devil is in the details with this project, and its definitely a bigger job than I was expecting it to be.

I picked up some parts and got some work done on the switch panel. I expect to get a bit more work done tomorrow, as well.

I started the morning off with a trip to Home Depot to pick up some hardware. I needed to get another 2×36″ 1/8″ aluminum piece to fabricate the switch panel out of, and also picked up some oil primer for the MDF side panels for the center console, and various other things I needed. I also picked up some Bondo, which I intend to use to smooth out and reinforce the transmission tunnel top.

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One of the first things I did when I got home was print out a duplicate of the paper template I used for the dash switch panel. I had lost the original file, which is part of why I hadn’t made the console panel yet. I found it the other day. After printing it out, I used some spray mount and stuck it to the aluminum as I had done a year or two ago for the dash switch panel.

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After the paper was adhered to the aluminum, I used a center punch to mark where the various holes were going to be drilled. The template has markings for five switches, six switch guards and four LEDs. This panel has four switches and three LEDs, and I only had four remaining switch guards. The panel uses all five positions: 12v outlet, driver’s seat heater, blower speed control knob, heat/vent knob and the passenger seat heater switch. The seat heaters get an indicator LED, as does the blower speed control.

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Once the holes were punched, I started drilling them out for all the various switches, knobs and handle bolts. Unfortunately I screwed one of them up and had to do yet another panel.

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I didn’t do any polishing work yet, as I need to do the trim strip on the dash, this panel and the two side panels of the center console. I may break down and do it tomorrow, but I really do not like polishing the aluminum — its a lot of back-breaking work.

As I said, the panel matches the dash switches in size. Two switch guard handles bracket the 12v socket, the four controls handle the heat/vent and seat heat.

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Seen from behind, there is more room with this panel than the dash switches. The servo controller for the heater control valve is pretty large, but the other switches are smaller than the comparable ones in the dash panel.

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Once that was done, I mocked up a couple cardboard panels to fill in the center console. I wasn’t sure how much of a trapezoid I wanted it to be — straight vertical sides would’ve looked funny. I ended up with a panel that is about an inch narrower at the top, and about 7″ high. Using the switch panel I mis-drilled, I used three cleckos and mounted it to the cardboard so I could mock up the position on the console. I had originally been thinking of having the switches low on the console, with room above for some sort of navigation and music device, or possibly a mount for my iPhone. I decided it looked better having it high, and that leaves me room to potentially even put a normal stereo in the car below it, as long as I keep the vents high on the side.

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From a seated position, the switches are all easy to reach, and look good.

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Once that was done, I disassembled the console and used some oil-based primer to seal the MDF. MDF absorbs water, so I wanted to ensure they didn’t get damaged, even with the vinyl on them, if it happened to rain and the car got wet.

I had intended to get a skim coat of bondo on the transmission tunnel top as well, but I got caught up playing BioShock 2 this afternoon and didn’t get back into the garage. I’ll likely take care of that tomorrow, at least.

I have an ABS panel that I’ll be using for the surface of the center console. It’ll be wrapped with vinyl, but I wanted something more rigid than the aluminum of the dash. I may cut that panel out tomorrow as well.

This week I need to fix a problem with my sewing machine so I can start sewing the vinyl cover for the console. I had thought I had a day’s work left last weekend, but I think it was probably closer to two full days (today really just being a half-day).

I still haven’t found a body shop — another task I really have to get taken care of very soon. I’ve eliminated most of the nearby options, so I’ll probably have to look in the 2-3 hour drive sort of distance at this point.